Sunday, October 31, 2004

Kerry vs Bush

Kerry vs Bush

Updated 00:35am (Mla time) Oct 31, 2004
By Isagani Cruz
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A14 of the October 31, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANY Filipinos are interested in the outcome of the American presidential election this coming Tuesday. Like it or not, we have historic ties with the United States dating back to a hundred years ago, not to mention our sentimental attachment to anything Stateside like Elvis and Victoria's Secret. Additionally, the United States is playing the self-serving role, not generally accepted, of an international policeman. The results of the coming election will affect not only that country but also the rest of the world.

As an interested spectator, I am as anxious as many Filipinos over the current contest between the top contenders for the presidency of the United States. The latest surveys predict a neck-and-neck race between George W. Bush and John Kerry as if they were equine thoroughbreds. Most of these polls have been more or less accurate in the past although we can remember one surprising upset that saw the shoo-in Thomas Dewey defeated by "give-'em hell" Harry S. Truman. President Bush has a slight edge over Senator Kerry, but the margin is within what is called the margin of error.

My own fear is that President Bush will win the coming election although Senator Kerry appears to be more deserving. Merit is not always the principal criterion for choosing the President of the United States, because American voters tend to vote like the Filipino voters in recent years. We elected Joseph Estrada as president in 1998 and such misfits as Jinggoy Estrada, Bong Revilla and Lito Lapid to the Senate this year.

American voters are also not always intelligent in their choices. In 1921, they elected Warren Harding who by his own admission later was unfit for the presidency. In 1952 and 1956, they preferred Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was an undistinguished student in West Point, to the erudite Adlai Stevenson. They did choose brilliant thinkers like Thomas Jefferson and John Adams but they also elevated to the highest office in the land several candidates with little formal schooling. Lincoln was one of them, but he proved to be one of the greatest presidents.

According to the polls, Bush has substantial support that may win him his bid for reelection. Dubya is not known for scholastic achievement and has occasionally mutilated the English language, but he is at least not worse, although not better, than some previous occupants of the Oval Office. As former governor of Texas and during his current term as president, he has amassed tremendous experience in the art of governance that has earned him considerable backing from his admirers.

The Democrats have faulted him for his acts as commander in chief and stress that although he may have won the war against Iraq, he is losing the peace with American soldiers losing their lives daily against the insurgents. Also challenged are Bush's domestic policies which, Kerry says, have resulted in the deterioration of the economy and the discrimination of the middle class in favor of the millionaires. Kerry also differs with Bush on various other issues like abortion, medical insurance, and social welfare,

A serious apprehension of the Democrats is that if Bush loses in a clean election, he will cheat as he did in 2000. And he can do this more easily this time, now that he is the President of the United States with all his powers and influence. Al Gore won the popular vote in the last presidential election but lost the electoral vote because of vote-rigging in Florida, where Dubya's brother was the governor. Some say that even the federal Supreme Court connived in the cheating.

At any rate, I hope Kerry will be able to affect a similar Truman upset. He is not as apparently hopeless as Truman in 1948, but he is nonetheless in serous danger of being out-maneuvered by the Republicans in power. Still, it is not always the reelectionist who triumphs in a fair election, as witness Bill Clinton who clobbered Dubya's father in 1992, Roosevelt who beat Hoover in 1932, and Cleveland, who replaced Harrison in 1892. The winners, incidentally, were all Democrats.

Intellectually, Kerry outdistances Bush by a mile and won all the three presidential debates. He even looks more presidential than Bush. He will be more imposing than Bush in international conferences with his 6'2" height and his head of thick hair with just enough gray to give him an air of serious wisdom. These may seem superficial distinctions but they may count a lot in close elections. Many women voted for Clinton because, in Hillary's words, "he looked like a Viking."

And since we are being trivial, let us remember that superstition in US presidential elections. Candidates with double letters in their names are the llamados. Thus, to cite recent examples, Bill Clinton beat George Bush, Jimmy Carter beat Gerald Ford, and Harry Truman beat Thomas Dewey. True, Lyndon Johnson defeated Barry Goldwater who had a double letter in his name. But as a rule, the superstition has proved true for William McKinley, Calvin Coolidge, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy, and others. John Kerry may be next, so I'll keep my fingers crossed.


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